Aquarium Crayfish: Care, Feeding, Breeding and Tank Setup

Native to the southeastern United States, the lobster-like crayfish is both adaptable and attractive.

Usually farm-raised, these shelled creatures are bred for captivity and require minimal care. Available in a multitude of bright and fun colors, they will perk up any tank space.

Although they need a lot of room, they are certainly worth keeping for their vibrancy and interesting character. In fact, they are known to redecorate, by rearranging the substrates laid on the floor of the tank! Interior design is clearly one of their favorite past times.

A red crayfish on some driftwood in an aquarium

Usually coming out at night, these characterful creatures will appreciate lots of hiding places, such as plants and rocks. During the day, they will tend to remain hidden until they’re fed. Then, they will make their way out to snatch up their prey, retreating back inside afterward.

As a molting species, the crayfish will lose its shell a few times a year. It’s best kept alongside larger fish, as smaller fish may be at risk from these semi-aggressive creatures. Indeed, this clawed creature has been known to clip the tails of other fish if they’re not careful!

Every crayfish owner will vouch for this little guy as a fun and quirky tank addition. Aquarium crayfish care is fun and straightforward. Just be sure to keep a lid on their tank, as they have been known to escape under the couch.

Quick Overview and Statistics

It’s certainly tempting to order one of these fun creatures right away. However, it’s important to know all the details before taking the plunge. The table below will give a ittle mor einsight:

CharacteristicDetails
Common name(s):Red swamp crayfish, red crayfish, red swamp crawfish, Louisiana crawfish, Louisiana crayfish, mudbug
Scientific Name(s):Procambarus clarkii
Family:Cambaridae
Origin:Farm-raised in the USA
Care Level:Easy
Temperament:Semi-aggressive
Adult Size:5 inches
Color Form:Mostly brown, red, orange, or bright blue
Lifespan:2 years
Minimum Tank Size:20 gallons
Typical Tank Setup:Numerous large plants and caves are advised to ensure lots of hiding spots for these nocturnal creatures.
Tank Level:Mainly a bottom-feeder, scavenging food dropped to the tank floor, but will crawl all over the tank.
Diet:Omnivore
Water Conditions:Freshwater, 68-85° F, KH 3-10, pH 6.5-8.0
Tank mates / Compatibility:A semi-aggressive creature, generally peaceful unless faced with its own kind. Will potentially snack on smaller fish if they’re slow enough to catch.

Originating from Louisiana, they are also native to Australia, New Zealand, and some other areas in southeastern America. However, in most cases, they are bred in captivity for home aquariums and food.

Generally a popular addition to most home aquariums, these make a great tank mate for almost any other fish that is fast and large enough not to become prey.

They work for anyone of any level of fish keeping expertise, as they are easy to maintain, and require minimal feeding.

Overall, they are fantastic fun to have around the tank, as long as your other fish keep their distance.

What Does the Crayfish Look Like?

Side view of a red crayfish in a gravel bottom aquarium

In the Louisiana region, the number of crayfish species comes in at over 330. They look very much like lobsters, with a hard outer shell, and claws on their front. They also have little legs on their underside, which enable them to scurry across the water-bed easily.

They can be found in a range of colors, all very bright, including red, brown, orange, blue, and sometimes even white. Their color can change depending on their surroundings—for example, if they are stressed, their color will dim. Additionally, the more they molt, the brighter their shell color may become.

Males usually have longer swimmerets (under-side legs) than females. Furthermore, testes are generally white, while ovaries are mostly orange. For more insight into how you can tell their gender, this short video should help.

 

Overall, their vibrancy really adds something special to any tank. Not only do they have interesting characters, but their appearance is quite a spectacle for any fish lover.

How do Aquarium Crayfish Behave?

Generally, they will scavenge on the bottom of their tank, waiting for food which drops to the floor. They will tend to mind their own business, as long as other fish steer clear of their sharp pincers. Throughout the day they will make rare appearances but usually come out at night.

When faced with a fishy predator, these shelled creatures will hide wherever they can. The smaller they are, the more frantically they will act when in danger. However, without predators in the aquarium to bother them, they may act as the predator themselves.

These fish are not as peaceful as other bottom-dwellers. They have been known to act aggressively, especially when confronted by their own kind. In this case, they will not hold back, and may even resort to cannibalism.

Aquarium crayfish are notorious for their redecoration tendencies—moving plants and stones around the tank floor. Even if you move the decorations back, they are known to defy you and move them again.

Nonetheless, all crayfish owners love this part of their character, always wondering what they’ll do next.

What are their Ideal Tank Requirements and Habitat?

In open waters, these creatures will happily remain at the bottom, scavenging and foraging for food. They will choose areas with a weaker current, so they aren’t washed away.

Mimicking these waters is a good way to keep them happy, ensuring abundant hiding spots, like plants and stones.

What Size Tank do They Need?

Purchasing more than one for the saem tank is usually not advised. Even just one requires a larger tank than most other fish. At least 10 gallons is required for just one, as anything else is too small for these semi-aggressive creatures.

What Water Type and Temperature do They Prefer?

Water temperature does actually have a profound effect on invertebrates. It can affect breeding, molting, and activity level. Between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit would be the perfect temperature for these easy going crustaceans.

Generally, freshwater crayfish are pretty hardy creatures and can withstand more exotic temperatures. Therefore, keeping the temperature on the higher end of the spectrum is advised. Just make sure not to cook them!

Otherwise, keep the KH level between 3 and 10, and the pH from 6.5 to 8.0, with a freshwater environment for proper crayfish care.

Suitable Substrate

A crayfish’s mortality rate in open water depends highly on the substrate used. Indeed, if threatened by a larger fish, these small crustaceans will need places to hide.

Therefore, providing a substarte that can support rooted plants is ideal.

In a home aquarium, as long as there are no large fish, they’ll thrive with a pebbled substrate for foraging. Though they do prefer mud or sand, with lots of debris to burrow under.

What Filters Should You Use?

They are robust creatures, so extreme conditions are not to be feared.

Sponge filters or hanging filters will work for them in most cases. Moreover, as bottom dwellers, a slower current is preferred for these scavengers.

Just be warned that they may attempt to escape via climbing on top of the filters. Therefore, remember to keep a lid on the tank at all times.

Any Preferential Lighting Needs?

As we have seen already, they prefer a nocturnal setting, and rarely come out during the day. Therefore, darker surroundings are preferred. Natural lighting will be ideal as long as it’s not too bright.

What Plants Should You Decorate Your Tank With?

As mentioned above, crayfish enjoy having numerous larger plants to hide behind or inside. Some of the best decorations for this include debris, like driftwood and flat rocks. Creating little nooks for them, like a cave, can also be a great way to please them.

When it comes to plants, Java moss and Java ferns are great. In fact, not only do they provide shelter, but they can also be eaten as a tasty snack.

However, if you don’t want them to eat any of your plants, floating plants are the better option. Something like floating pennyworts or spongeplants are perfect for this case.

What do Crayfish Like to Eat?

They were long thought to be herbivores, mainly eating plants on the water’s floor. However, they actually demonstrate an affinity for animal protein as well—eating other fish, and even other crayfish.

They are now ranked as one of the chief carnivores in bodies of freshwater.

What do They Eat in Their Natural Habitat?

They will mostly remain on the water’s floor, eating plant matter like roots and wood. They are also known to hunt prey, such as mussels, snails, and leeches.

On occasion, as mentioned previously, they will not be afraid to eat one of their own.

What Should You Feed Them at Home?

Purchasing frozen meats, such as those they would normally find in their natural habitat, is a good place to start.

For example, frozen bloodworms, mussels, snails, and shrimp are ideal. Otherwise, dried aquarium foods, like flakes and wafers, are also good substitutes.

Other than this, just ensure to keep numerous large plants in your tank. These not only act as places to hide but provide grazing food for any hungry crayfish.

Are There any Human Foods They Can Eat?

Alongside some of the meats mentioned above, which I’m sure many meat eaters will be partial to, vegetables are perfect. Pretty much any vegetable, including corn, carrots, cucumbers, and broccoli, are a great treat for these omnivorous beings.

How Often Should You Feed Them?

Feeding crayfish once or twice a day is the best way to keep them happy. They will not simply survive on eating plant matter and algae as other smaller creatures can. Therefore, providing them chunky extras, like meat and vegetables, will do the trick.

Any Special Care Requirements?

After an outbreak of crayfish plague in the 1980s in Britain, multiple crayfish farms were destroyed. It was caused by a lethal fungus, which spread rapidly across the crayfish community.

However, without exposure to large groups of crayfish in home aquariums, it’s much less likely for yours to become severely ill.

In general, the only specific care they require is for when they molt. As discussed previously, by leaving their old shell in the tank, they can feast on it to aid new shell growth.

What Other Fish Can They Share Their Tank With?

Generally, fish which are not too small, and will not be threatened by the crayfish, will reside happily alongside them. Indeed, their large claws are usually too heavy for them to react quickly enough. Some appropriate tank mates include cichlids, goldfish, and barbs.

Otherwise, bottom-dwellers—such as snails and shrimp—are definitely not the best tank mates. Their slow nature, and inability to move off the floor of the tank would make them the perfect prey. Indeed, these are the types of proteins they would eat in their natural habitat.

Equally, fish that are very large and may threaten the crayfish, are also not the best tank mates. Generally, as long as any tank mates remain above the tank’s floor, they will all reside together in peace.

Can You Keep Many Crayfish Together?

You should aim to steer clear of purchasing numerous crayfish together. Sometimes the larger ones will threaten the smaller ones, and may even resort to eating them.

However, it is possible to include a number of them in a tank together, if you really want to.

By buying crayfish of all the same size, you can reduce the chance of them feeling threatened by each other. As long as you have a large tank with enough space to house a few, this will work fine.

Purchasing Advice

They are one of the more expensive fishy breeds out there. You can purchase them for between $30 and $60.

As they are very hardy creatures, they usually travel rather well. However, if you are concerned about your new friend and prefer to see it first, simply go to your nearest pet shop to source a freshwater crayfish.

As discussed previously, most are bred in captivity, and business is thriving. Therefore, most suppliers will be reliable. Just be careful when buying “used” individuals on eBay, as they may be older, so they may die sooner.

Can You Breed Them?

Breeding crayfish is pretty simple, and most will do so naturally, without human intervention. Generally, to help the offspring along, higher temperatures are advised.

Unlike shrimp, fertilization of crayfish eggs occurs internally in the female fish. The female will lie on her back, curling her abdomen forward, and moving her legs. This will drive the eggs towards the swimmerets, where they will remain for six weeks.

As the eggs remain with the mother until they are matured, they require minimal care on our part. However, hundreds and hundreds of viable young will be produced at once. Therefore, ensuring an outlet to distribute the babies after conception is paramount.

Interesting Facts and Trivia

Crayfish are awesome and make a fabulous addition to your tank. Here are some interesting additional facts which will make you fall further in love with these shelled beings:

  • They can grow back lost limbs! In fact, during the molting process, their limbs can get stuck in the old shell. These will grow back later on—it’s a biological miracle, really.
  • They can eat both hot dogs and cat food.
  • They are cousins of the lobster, hence why they look so similar.
  • They are extremely territorial, which is why they need such a large tank to house multiple

Final Thoughts

So, now you know a little more about these fantastic creatures, why wouldn’t you want one? One of the main elements in crayfish care is ensuring to keep their molted shell in the tank with them so they can eat it and use the nutrients to build their new shell.

Also, making sure there are plenty of large plants and rocks for them to hide in will keep them comfortable. Ensuring to keep a lid on their tank so they cannot escape is also paramount.

Finally, being sure only to buy a crayfish if none of your other fish are bottom-dwellers or small and slow moving will ensure they don’t become crayfish food.

Perfect for a beginner or expert fishkeeper, they are super easy to look after. It really is a gem of an addition for any home aquarium.

If you have any questions or anything more to add, please do leave us a comment down below—we’d love to hear from you!

Happy fish keeping!

Wendy Kathryn

Hi, I'm Wendy, the owner and creator of this website, an experienced fish keeper and avid student of the art since 2010. My aim is to help beginners avoid the many possible mistakes when getting started in this wonderful hobby.

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